You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Last Dogs of Winter

Intimate, gorgeously rendered docu surveys one man's quixotic mission to preserve and breed an endangered species: Canada's indigenous Eskimo dog.

With: Brian Ladoon, Caleb Ross, Dave Daley, Mike Macri, Penny Rawlings.

For the past 40 years, in a remote and harshly beautiful corner of northern Manitoba, Brian Ladoon has devoted his life to preserving and breeding an endangered species: the Qimmiq, Canada’s indigenous Eskimo dog. Intimate, gorgeously rendered docu “The Last Dogs of Winter” from Kiwi helmer Costa Botes intelligently surveys Ladoon’s quixotic mission, the numerous obstacles he faces, and the uneasy co-existence of man, animal and nature in the small town of Churchill (pop. 873). A wilderness lover’s delight, “Dogs” reps a shoo-in for cablers, fests and the cinematheque circuit.

One of only three surviving dog breeds indigenous to Canada, the Eskimo dogs were once essential to the native Inuit’s nomadic life in Canada’s north, but the population of these powerful, majestic looking animals dwindled to less than 100 by 1970, due to disease, government mandated slaughter, and the availability of motorized snow mobiles. A beloved local Bishop who predicted their genetic material would one day be as precious as jewels sparked Ladoon’s interest in the breed.

Helmer Botes comes to Ladoon’s story through fellow New Zealander (and producer) Caleb Ross, a former Kiwi actor. As a twentysomething, the adventuresome Ross traveled to Canada for love, but, as he notes, the affair went south, and he went north, enticed by a job posting that read, “Come to Churchill, breed Eskimo dogs, see polar bears.” (Churchill is known as one of the world’s top spots for viewing the migrating bears.)

But like Ladoon himself, the pic refuses to pander to those seeking only cute animal shots. Completing his third year on the job as Botes shoots, the affable, articulate Ross reps a distinct contrast to his tightly wound, frontiersman boss. As an eccentric character in a community full of them, Ladoon earns as many detractors as he does supporters, and the fair-minded helmer takes time (perhaps too much) to listen to all comers. Another bone of contention concerns the right of access to the government-owned land where Ladoon runs his operation.

Both Ross and Ladoon speak to some of the criticisms, including uninformed allegations that the dogs, who spend their adult life chained out of doors in sub zero temperatures, are being mistreated. Although it is true, in a perfect world, that they would benefit from running and doing the work they were once bred for, such as pulling sleds, Ladoon’s Canadian Eskimo Dog Foundation has only three full-time staffers and a handful of volunteers for a 7-day-a-week grind that includes driving more than 100 miles a day just to feed the animals and make sure they’re healthy.

Filming with a lightweight HD camera and only his wife as crew (a job that required her to drive a pickup truck down vast stretches of icy road and carry a gun with rubber bullets to be prepared for rogue polar bears), Botes intercuts artfully shot interviews with spectacular outdoor scenes. Among the most captivating are those of the chained dogs interacting with the curious bears, and the lumbering white bears gamboling with one another in the snow.

Fine sound design and musical effects support the visuals, as does Thom McLeod’s atmospheric score.

The film ends with a final bit of trivia, pointing out that the breed was selected for a 1988 postage stamp and a 1997 coin. Ladoon was the breeder responsible for the models used for both.

The Last Dogs of Winter

Docu - New Zealand

Production: A Lone Pine Film production in association with the New Zealand Film Commission. Produced by Costa Botes, Caleb Ross. Directed, edited by Costa Botes.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Botes, Caleb Ross; music, Tom McLeod; sound (Surround Sound), Botes, Darren Maynard, Phil Burton. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Real), Sept. 9, 2011. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Brian Ladoon, Caleb Ross, Dave Daley, Mike Macri, Penny Rawlings.

More Film

  • Robert Iger and Rupert Murdochcredit: Disney

    Wall Street Applauds as Disney Nears Finish Line on Fox Acquisition

    Wall Street is rooting for Disney as the media giant reaches the finish line this week in its 15-month quest to acquire most of Rupert Murdoch’s film and TV empire. Fox shareholders, on the other hand, are being a little more cautious. Disney is poised to close the $71.3 billion deal that took many twists [...]

  • Personal Tales From Hong Kong, China

    Personal Tales From Hong Kong and China Among the Asia Film Financing Forum Projects

    A brace of personal tales from China and Hong Kong are among the 23 projects vying for attention at the 17th Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. Liu Miaomiao is a rare female ethnic Hui Muslim filmmaker. She came to international prominence with 1993’s “Chatterbox” that won the President of the Italian Senate’s Gold Medal [...]

  • Josie Ho Makes 2019 the Year

    Josie Ho Makes 2019 the Year She Takes Risks in Her Film Choices

    Josie Ho vows to master the art of calculated risk in the year 2019. As an actress and film producer, she is conscious of the choices of projects she makes: appearing in the new film by Japanese hotshot director Shinichiro Ueda, producing a new documentary feature while developing some 10 titles in the pipeline of [...]

  • FilMart: Big Data, Content Key to

    FilMart: Big Data, Content Key to iQIYI's Online Ambitions

    Tech and data play a huge role for iQIYI, China’s second-largest streaming platform, as a way to innovate and step out ahead of its competitors, iQIYI founder and CEO Yu Gong explained in a keynote speech Monday at FilMart. “We don’t see a lot of innovation-driven entertainment companies yet. We want to be the one,” [...]

  • Ted Sarandos and Thierry Fremaux'Okja' photocall,

    Despite Ongoing Peace Talks, Netflix Won't Have Any Movies at Cannes 2019 (EXCLUSIVE)

    Although Netflix and the Cannes Film Festival continue quietly to negotiate a potential settlement to their differences, the streaming giant will be absent from the Croisette again this year with no film in or out of competition, Variety has learned. The ongoing talks between the two sides have been friendly, including a dinner in Los [...]

  • Series Mania Showcases Shlomi Elkabetz-Produced Series

    Series Mania to Showcase Shlomi Elkabetz-Produced Series 'The Dreamers'

    “The Dreamers,” one of the series to be presented at Series Mania’s Co-Pro Pitching Sessions, is a 10-part crime comedy produced by prominent Israeli filmmaker Shlomi Elkabetz (“Gett”) and Galit Cachlon at Deux Beaux Garcons Films. Produced for Israeli cable TV operator HOT, the series will be directed by Maysaloun Hamoud, a young Hungarian-born Palestinian [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content